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Six Years of Deceit

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Although the letter was signed by the president, it bore Cheney's unmistakable stamp. Quoting the language of the vice president's energy staffers almost verbatim, it not only reversed Bush's promise to regulate CO2, it also made a sweeping new declaration: that carbon dioxide "is not a 'pollutant' under the Clean Air Act." (The administration would cling to this untenable position for six years, until the Supreme Court ruled in April that federal law compels the EPA to take regulatory action on climate pollution.)

The letter concluded with a hint of things to come: "I look forward to working with you and others to address global climate change issues in the context of a national energy policy." Bush's about-face on planet-warming pollution thus enabled Cheney to take control of the White House's energy policy and to work with industry behind closed doors to craft a polluter-friendly approach to global warming. "By having control of the energy plan, the vice president also had the reins on the climate policy," says Symons, who sat in on Cheney's energy task force. "The ideology is simple: You don't put limits on greenhouse-gas pollution, because that might put limits on coal and oil – and that would hurt industry's performance. Everything else flowed from that."

As he shaped climate policy, Cheney took his cues from the Global Climate Coalition, an alliance of anti-Kyoto polluters that included the top lobbying arms of the oil and coal industries. In June 2001, the administration dispatched Paula Dobriansky, the undersecretary of state for global affairs, to address the GCC at the headquarters of the American Petroleum Institute. In her speech, Dobriansky was glad to give the industry crowd credit for the president's decision to withdraw from the international treaty designed to slow climate change. Her talking points from that day read, "POTUS rejected Kyoto, in part, based on input from you."

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act also reveal that Dobriansky had received a copy of the GCC's "21st Century Climate Action Agenda," a game plan crafted by polluting industries that calls for "a new approach to climate policy" focusing on "voluntary actions" rather than mandatory limits on greenhouse gases. On February 14th, 2002, Bush gave a speech at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that laid out his policy on global warming for the first time. The speech was a Valentine's Day gift to polluters, officially enshrining the GCC's agenda, almost point for point, as the White House's climate policy. Under the plan, planet-warming pollution would actually increase by thirty-four percent by 2030. Bush vaguely promised to cut the "intensity" of carbon emissions by eighteen percent over the next ten years – neglecting to mention that the nation was already on track for a fourteen percent reduction. He touted $700 million in new funding for technologies that might someday reduce emissions – money that government auditors were later unable to find any trace of. And he promised that the entire plan would be thoroughly reviewed and re-evaluated – in 2012, four years after he left office.

The National Academy of Sciences blasted the policy, saying it lacked a "guiding vision, executable goals, clear timetables and criteria for measuring progress." Even the technology promoted in the president's plan was bogus. "It's as if these people were not cognizant of the existing science," one member of the academy remarked. "Stuff that would have been cutting-edge in 1980 is listed as a priority for the future."

In his Valentine's Day speech, Bush gave credit to the man who Cheney had placed in charge of crafting the nation's climate policy to suit the needs of big polluters. "I want to thank Jim Connaughton, who is the chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality," Bush declared. "He's done a fabulous job of putting this policy together."

Connaughton's mission at the CEQ was to make sure climate regulations never got in the way of energy development. A Yale-educated lawyer, Connaughton comes across like a slightly caffeinated Ron Howard, with a manic energy and a balding pate of wispy red hair. As head of the CEQ he put a green spin on polluter-friendly measures: Lowering air quality became the "Clear Skies Initiative," while allowing timber companies to step up their clear-cutting was dubbed the "Healthy Forests Initiative."

To direct the White House's spin on global warming, Connaughton appointed Philip Cooney as his top deputy. Cooney had the right experience for the job: He worked as "climate team leader" for the American Petroleum Institute. In 1998, the API took part in an industry coalition that created the "Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan." The plan, recently entered into evidence by the House Oversight Committee, maps out an elaborate disinformation campaign to prevent "precipitous action on climate change." The strategy was to sow doubt about global warming, disseminating industry-funded research to challenge "the science underpinning the global climate change theory."

Now, with Cooney in the White House, the industry had its own anti-climate man running the disinformation campaign. As the"action plan" directed, Cooney set out to censor the EPA's science on global warming and inject the industry's denialist positions into government documents. "They decided they didn't need to win the debate on climate," says Piltz, the former official who exposed Cooney's tactics. "They just had to leave an atmosphere of uncertainty about it and dissipate the will for political action."

But for all his credentials as a master of spin, Cooney got off to a rough start. In May 2002, the administration released its Climate Action Report, a dispatch to the U.N. that documents progress on climate-treaty obligations. The report was developed by the EPA, but internal documents reveal that Cooney edited it to reflect positions advocated by the API and Ford. On the opening page of the chapter on climate impacts, Cooney inserted a litany of language in bold intended to cast doubt on the science: "the weakest links in our knowledge . . . a lack of understanding . . . uncertainties . . . considerable uncertainty…perhaps even greater uncertainty . . . regarded as tentative."

But the clumsy caveats weren't enough to obscure the report's real science. With the help of an EPA source, The New York Times filtered out Cooney's waffling and filed a front-page story that called the report "a stark shift for the Bush administration." The report, the Times observed, detailed "far-reaching effects that global warming will inflict" and "for the first time mostly blames human actions for recent global warming."

Cooney was horrified: An obscure government report he had tried to whitewash now threatened to undermine his former employers in the energy industry. Panicked, he called on an old friend for help. Myron Ebell had been a key member of the coalition that crafted the disinformation "action plan." In fact, casting doubt on global warming is Ebell's full-time job: He heads the climate-denial campaign at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank that was underwritten in part by ExxonMobil.

Ebell recalls that Cooney was frantic over the story in the Times. "We tried to put some qualifiers on that chapter in the report," Cooney told him. "We'd take the text from EPA, and then we'd add a sentence like, "We don't really know if this is really happening.' So we tried to do it, but I can see now that we made a total mess of it."

Ebell's advice to Cooney is contained in a e-mail dated June 3rd, 2002. "Thanks for asking for our help," he wrote. "I know you're in crisis mode. . . . I want to help you cool things down, but after consulting with the team, I think that what we can do is limited until there is an official statement from the administration repudiating the report."

That repudiation came the very next day. President Bush himself dismissed the report, saying it had been "put out by the bureaucracy." Forget the headlines, he said – there was no shift in the administration's policy.

What happened next, according to internal e-mails obtained by  Rolling Stone, reveals just how seriously the White House took its intelligence fixing on global warming. Cooney was put in charge of damage control and was apparently instructed to craft a letter to the Times denying that the president had changed course on climate change. But this time, Cooney's editor was not just Connaughton, but Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove. The collaboration with Rove raises questions about Cooney's congressional testimony last March, in which he insisted, under oath, that he had not discussed with Rove his work at the CEQ.

The letter drafted by Cooney – and vetted by Rove – insists that the Climate Action Report "reinforces" the "significant scientific uncertainties" emphasized in the president's climate policy. Edits to the rough drafts of the letter were blacked out by White House censors, but Rove's pithy endorsement of the final draft survived. "Great," he wrote in praise of Cooney's spin. "Defends the report rather than staying focused on the policy." In other words, Cooney had succeeded in emphasizing the report's overhyped uncertainties, thus shifting attention away from the White House's do-nothing approach to global warming.

At the same time, Cooney got a pat on the back from Bill O'Keefe, his old boss at API. In a letter to Bush's chief of staff, O'Keefe – by that point a registered lobbyist for ExxonMobil – urged the president to tighten up the White House spin machine and make sure all communications were "on the same page, with the same message." O'Keefe also faxed a copy to Cooney with a handwritten note reading, "P.S. You are doing a great job."

From then on, Cooney wielded a heavier pen when editing official reports on global warming. Not content to obscure science with uncertainty, he began to rewrite the science itself. Draft documents made public by the House Oversight Committee reveal that Cooney now had veto power over federal scientists, including Richard Moss, coordinator of the Climate Change Science Program Office, and even James Mahoney, the assistant commerce secretary nominally in charge of America's climate science.

In one document, Moss and Mahoney attempted to push back on several of Cooney's more than 100 edits to an EPA document called "Our Changing Planet" – each of which served to amplify uncertainty and downplay the threat posed by global warming. Cooney repeatedly overruled Moss and Mahoney with an aggressive "no" scrawled in the margins. On another document Cooney marked up, he commanded EPA officials that "these changes must be made." Beside one strike-through marked with a star, Cooney wrote, "Red Flag: Do not cite National Assessment" – dismissing the landmark report commissioned by Bush's father.

Although some of Cooney's edits were revealed in a New York Times story in June 2005 that led to his departure, the full extent of his interference has never been reported. His commissarial coup came in April 2003, with his revisions to the EPA's Draft Report on the Environment. He began by deleting the sentence "climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment." He then deleted the top-line assessment by the National Research Council, which establishes an unequivocal cause-and-effect link – "Greenhouse gases are accumulating in the atmosphere as the result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise." In its place, Cooney wrote the following mishmash of his own creation: "Some activities emit greenhouse gases and other substances that directly or indirectly may affect the balance of incoming and outgoing radiation, thereby potentially affecting climate on regional and global scales."

The changes sparked a rebellion by the EPA's senior scientists. In an internal memo uncovered by Congressional investigators, they wrote that Cooney's edited text "no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change" and "may leave an impression that cooling is as much an issue as warming." Whitman was also furious. "The language that CEQ found acceptable was such pablum," she says now. "It was so much below the level of sophistication of the report that I felt it would have denigrated it all." But her solution to this problem was to simply delete the section on climate change – handing Cooney a carte-blanche victory.

Whitman says she killed the section hoping that scientific documents included with the report would speak for themselves. But the capitulation helped drive her to the breaking point. Four days after bowing to Cooney, she resigned as head of the EPA.

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